mon 14/10/2019

Lucinda Williams, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Lucinda Williams, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Lucinda Williams, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Exquisite low-lit intensity from the American roots singer-songwriter, with the occasional jarring note

Lucinda Williams: unflinching

Lucinda Williams’s current tour might be billed as “intimate”, but anyone who has seen her perform before will know that intimacy tends to come with the ticket. It is true, however, that this pared-down format, in which she performs drummerless and accompanied – splendidly – by Doug Pettibone and David Sutton on guitars, pedal steel, bass and harmonies, brings the audience even closer to her extraordinary voice and unflinching words. In Edinburgh last night, the effect wasn’t “intimate” so much as visceral: at times it felt like placing a microscope over an open wound.

Two of the first three songs – “Pineola” and “Lake Charles” – were about death, an impressively high ratio even for Williams, whose catalogue is liberally sprinkled with suicides, self-destructive drunks, charming junkies and, her words not mine, “beautiful losers”. Though it was rarely comfortable listening, the format underlined the extent to which her best songs are dark, shadow-struck things. “Those Three Days” remains as complete a habitation of heartbreak as I’ve heard, and she wrung ever last drop of blood, sweat and tears from it. “World Without Tears” and “Essence” were similarly stripped bare, all the better to see the bone.

Only a willingness to indulge her inner rock goddess jarred

Noting her tendency to lean towards the dark side isn't to suggest that Williams is one-dimensional. “Blessed”, a prayerful two-chord incantation, provided plenty proof of God in the detail. A pretty new number, “When I Look at the World”, was introduced as a “glass half full” song and, you know, it almost sounded like it.

She has no problem with light and shade. It was only a willingness to indulge her inner rock goddess that jarred. The show faltered when she swapped her acoustic guitar for a silver electric and attempted to force the square peg of her heavier material into the round hole of the trio format. The exquisite, low-lit intensity which had built up over the first 45 minutes was swept away by the bar-room brass of “Come On” and “Honey Bee”, already two of her worst songs and not improved by the lack of a drummer. The raw gospel-soul stomp of “Joy” fared better, not least because she sang it like she had just written it, but the electric interlude was too long and lacked variety.

Everything else was finely judged. From the past she borrowed two very different songs, Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory” and Skip James’s “Hard Times Killing Floor Blues”, to comment on current economic straits. And there was a real find in “Everything but the Truth”, a new song written for a Johnny Depp movie which the band hadn’t performed before – cue nervous glances and chord sheets spread on the stage. They needn’t have worried. Such was the crowd’s enthusiasm for its salty blues snap, it won’t be long before it gets a second airing.

Overleaf: watch Lucinda Williams perform "Factory" live

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